Sunday, December 4, 2022

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Teachers: ‘We are juggling flaming chainsaws every day’

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Alamance-Burlington school board members heard from four ABSS teachers – including the 2020 and 2021 teachers of the year – about how the board and administration could make their jobs easier, amid what they described as a growing list of non-instructional duties they face, long after the last bell rings.

“Nothing is too big of a thing to do, but when you get them from 12 different people, and you get them from the state…none of these things in and of themselves [is] too difficult but, added together, it’s a lot. I want time to be with my kids, and these things people are asking us to do – these little tasks that are not instructional – are getting in the way of my ability [to impact a child.

“We are juggling flaming chainsaws every day.”

– Christopher Doi, Hawfields Middle School teacher and ABSS teacher of the year in 2021

Christopher Doi, a language arts teacher at Hawfields Middle School and the ABSS teacher of the year in 2021, told school board members during their latest work session that ABSS had recently surveyed teachers and the one thing that resonated most with him, “out of 200 and some data points,” is why has it become expected for teachers to wear many different hats.

“We find everyone is just exhausted,” Doi elaborated. “Nothing is too big of a thing to do, but when you get them from 12 different people, and you get them from the state…none of these things in and of themselves [is] too difficult but, added together, it’s a lot. I want time to be with my kids, and these things people are asking us to do – these little tasks that are not instructional – are getting in the way of my ability [to impact a child.

“We are juggling flaming chainsaws every day,” Doi continued. “It’s something I happily do – I roll in there every day, raring to go, with like a gallon and a half of coffee.”

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The four teachers included Kelly Poquette, an elementary school cultural arts teacher for the school system’s new virtual academy and the ABSS teacher of the year in 2020; Windy Lampson, an art teacher at Graham High School; and Jenna Clark, a first-grade teacher at Alexander Wilson Elementary School. Their consensus: enough already.

“I feel like I’m able to teach but I also feel like I’m exhausted . . . like I have figurative leeches taking that energy away.

“We are understaffed, as is the rest of the world. [Are we] having realistic expectations of our educators?” Are we finding ways to help them do things that only they can do?”

– Kelly Poquette, elementary school teacher and ABSS teacher of the year in 2020

“I feel like I’m able to teach but I also feel like I’m exhausted…like I have figurative leeches taking that energy away,” said Poquette.

Pandemic-induced fatigue and staffing shortages were common concerns, as well.

“We are understaffed, as is the rest of the world,” Poquette acknowledged. “[Are we] having realistic expectations of our educators?” she asked. “Are we finding ways to help them do things that only they can do?”

Paperwork, data analysis, before- and after-school meetings with colleagues and school administrators, bus duty, hall duty, cafeteria duty, curriculum meetings, goal-setting meetings, planning, covering for teachers who are absent, and professional development are among some of the responsibilities that ABSS teachers routinely squeeze in before, during, and after their own classes, as it was described to board members last week.

For her part, Poquette said she thinks “that has a lot to do” with why people leave the teaching profession. “We do have district-wide PLCs [Professional Learning Communities] and [virtual] PLCs; they’re by Zoom and they meet from 3:45 to 4:45 [p.m.]. They’re by subject. Our contract ends at 4:00 but these meetings are scheduled until 4:45 [p.m.]. What if you teach different subjects?” One possible solution she offered is possibly having a rotation, rather than require teachers to participate in every PLC session.

“A lot of our time is planning,” said Clark. That includes developing lesson plans, going over curriculum standards, setting goals, and figuring out whether lesson plans meet state curriculum standards, plus completing training for new programs such as the state-mandated “Science of Reading” program that will be implemented for the upcoming school year.

Doi said, “Some teachers don’t have a break at all – I mean, some don’t eat lunch or go to the bathroom, or when they do have a break, it’s ‘let’s give them something to do because they’re free.’”

“The LETRS [Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading] training is almost like this cloud that’s coming,” Clark said. “It’s like, ‘oh geez, how are we going to fit this in?’”

Referring to the new reading training for reading teachers, Poquette added, “It’s a lot of work, and it just can’t be done during the school day.”

Doi emphasized that the new LETRS training for teachers is “going to take a lot of time, for people who don’t have time to use the bathroom or eat lunch right now.

“Just let the professionals be professionals and do it,” Doi added. “It’s almost a slap in the face. I think sometimes we are held to very high professional standards; then when we do our job, it’s almost like the state doesn’t trust us to do our jobs. I almost feel like – just leave us alone and let us do our thing.”

All four teachers said they want to feel respected as professionals.

“It’s that feeling of being in here right now – that you’re willing to give us an hour to talk,” Lampson said. “It’s that feeling of respect and like we’re being heard, being treated like we are professionals, and like, when we are asked to do something, that we’re trusted to do it and do it well.”

Later in the discussion, school board vice chairman Patsy Simpson said, “We need to put this on the road – a road show to [the state Department of Public Instruction] because what you four are doing today is highlighting what I hear throughout the district from teachers.”


OTHER ABSS NEWS IN THIS WEEK’S (MARCH 24) EDITION:

ABSS trims increase it will ask commissioners to fund: https://alamancenews.com/school-board-tentatively-agrees-to-trim-2-5m-from-increase-in-county-budget-request/

New high school construction continues on schedule: https://alamancenews.com/construction-of-new-high-school-continuing-on-schedule/

Two county commissioners debate relative merits of ABSS vs. charter schools: https://alamancenews.com/commissioners-lashey-vs-thompson-over-charter-schools-vs-other-public-schools/

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